The LOCAL doesn’t publish editorials or political endorsements.
Ours is a very small operation and I’m not about to pretend we have an “editorial board.” A newspaper’s editorial board has always been separate from the newsroom. It represents the views of the publisher. The members of the editorial board in a traditional structure are not the editors who determine what to cover and how to cover it, or the reporters who carry out those decisions.
That structure was never truly possible for small newspapers, where the editors making news decisions also write opinions — and often do news-gathering and reporting too. As a reporter or editor at a small paper, you are very fortunate if you have a publisher who understood and respected the division between sales and news — a publisher who doesn’t kill a story because it reflects badly on an important advertiser, who doesn’t insist on doing a story that has little news value to make an advertiser happy, who doesn’t sell ads that masquerade as editorial content.
But our business model — independently owned, digital-only, local news media — only works when everybody does everything. We’re no different than all small-business owners. We roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done.
So, if I’m going to express an opinion about something, it’d be silly to slap a label on it to disguise it as something other than what it is: my opinion — my personal opinion.
It’s also silly to think news reporters don’t have or shouldn’t have opinions. In fact, it’s ridiculous. Anyone who doesn’t have an opinion about current events — especially something they’re investigating and reporting on — is not a critical thinker and has no business being in a newsroom.
Do you want your news produced by a bot? There’s an app for that, I’m sure.
The most important thing as a reporter is to keep your opinion out of your story. Do your level best. And the reporter’s editor should be there to see to it. Seek truth and report it. Stick to the facts. Be fair and accurate. Tenets to live by. People are always asking me what I think about news I’ve reported. I take that as a sign I’ve achieved my goals.
I’ve written opinion columns only sporadically since launching RiverheadLOCAL nearly seven years ago. It’s not because I lack opinions or I’m shy about expressing them. I just don’t have time. My weekdays start at 4 a.m. and usually end well past 7 at night, later if there’s a meeting I have to cover. I work seven days a week. I haven’t had a full day off since 2009. I’m not complaining. Or bragging. Just sayin’. So opinion columns? Though I enjoy writing them and they get a good response from readers, they’re a luxury I just don’t have time for.
To be perfectly honest, though, it’s not just time. It’s energy. Public discourse in recent years has changed. Civility? All bets are off. If you express an opinion, you are exposing yourself to personal, often brutal, attack. I’ve been called a lot of names and I’ve grown pretty thick skin over the years, but it takes energy, more than I have to spare.— especially in the digital era where digital trolls and cyber-bullies rule.
But yesterday, someone I’ve known a long time, someone I thought knew me well enough to not have to ask, inquired if I am supporting Trump.
I was dumbfounded for a second. My short answer: Hell, no, I’m not supporting Trump.
OK, I didn’t swear because the person who asked is a member of the clergy.
But I was dumbfounded, because it made me realize how quiet I’ve been during a time when silence is dangerous. I believe Donald Trump is dangerous and that this “movement” now known as “Trumpism” is dangerous. I fear for our Constitution, our institutions of government, and our civil rights. So, silence is not an option.
In my next post I’ll explain why I’m in the “Anyone but Trump” camp.
But first, there is news to write.
Denise Civiletti is an owner of East End Local Media Corp., publishers of RiverheadLOCAL. and SoutholdLOCAL. An award-winning reporter, including a “Writer of the Year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015, she is an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman (1988-1991). She lives in Riverhead with her husband and business partner, Peter Blasl. The views expressed in her column are hers alone.
Send Denise an email.